Posts Tagged: Experian breach


8
Oct 15

At Experian, Security Attrition Amid Acquisitions

T-Mobile disclosed last week that some 15 million customers had their Social Security numbers and other personal data stolen thanks to a breach at Experian, the largest of the big American consumer credit bureaus. But this actually wasn’t the first time that a hacking incident at Experian exposed sensitive T-Mobile customer data, and that previous breach may hold important clues about what went wrong more recently.

Experian's offices in Nottingham, UK. Source: Wikipedia.

Experian’s offices in Nottingham, UK. Source: Wikipedia.

On Dec. 30, 2013, T-Mobile said it notified a “relatively small” number of customers that unauthorized access to a file stored on servers owned by Experian had exposed Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers. The mobile provider identified the breached vendor as Decisioning Solutions, an identity-proofing and authentication company that was acquired by Experian in April 2013. We’ll revisit this acquisition in a few moments.

Over the past week, KrebsOnSecurity has interviewed a half-dozen security experts who said they recently left Experian to find more rewarding and less frustrating work at other corporations. Nearly all described Experian as a company fixated on acquiring companies in the data broker and analytics technology space, even as it has stymied efforts to improve security and accountability at the Costa Mesa, Calif. based firm.

Jasun Tate worked for a year until April 2014 as a chief information security officer delegate and risk consultant at Experian’s government services and e-marketing business units. Tate said he and several of his colleagues left last year after repeatedly running into problems getting buy-in or follow-up support for major projects to beef up security around Experian’s growing stable of companies handling sensitive consumer and government data.

“What the board of directors at Experian wanted security-wise and the security capabilities on the ground were two completely different things,” Tate said. “Senior leadership there said they were pursuing a very aggressive growth-by-acquisition campaign. The acquisition team would have a very strict protocol on how they assess whether a business may be viable to buy, but the subsequent integration of the business into our core security architecture was just a black box of magic in terms of how it was to be implemented. And I’m not saying successful magic at all.”

Another recent former security employee at Experian who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity said it was clear that the company’s board was not well-informed about the true state of security within the company’s various business units.

“When I was there, the board was very big on security and wanting to invest in it and make sure we were doing what we needed to do in order to avoid situations just like this,” the source said. “In my opinion, there’s no way the board was told the whole story, because if they had been then things wouldn’t be where they are are now. We wouldn’t be talking about this. Some things had to have been hidden or spun in a way to look positive somehow.”

BLACK BOX MAGIC

Not long after it acquired the above-mentioned Decisioning Solutions in April 2013, Experian folded the company into its Decision Analytics platform — a unit which provides credit and noncredit data, customer analytics and fraud detection to lenders, cable and satellite companies, telecommunications firms, third-party debt collectors, utilities and to state and federal government entities.

Within hours of the latest T-Mobile breach news hitting the wires, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by an anonymous source who sent this author a Web link that, when clicked, opened up a support ticket within that Decision Analytics platform in the United Kingdom — with absolutely no authentication needed. That support ticket I viewed appears to have been filed by someone in an office cube at Experian’s data center in Costa Rica who was requesting hardware support for a component of the company’s Global Technology Services division.

Countless internal support requests for access to Experian's Decision Analytics credit information platform were exposed to the Internet without authentication until earlier this week.

Countless internal support requests for access to Experian’s Decision Analytics credit information platform were exposed to the Internet without authentication until earlier this week.

That particular support ticket was relatively uninteresting, but according to my source anyone could view countless other support tickets filed via the support portal for Experian’s Decision Analytics platform.

The same source demonstrated how modifying just one or two numbers at the tail end of that link revealed requests for access to networked file shares from across a range of Experian’s business units. The requests included specific names of network shares, usernames, userIDs, and LanIDs, as well as email addresses, phone numbers of Experian personnel requesting and approving the changes.

Countless internal support requests for access to Experian's Decision Analytics credit information platform were exposed to the Internet without authentication until earlier this week.

Countless internal support requests for access to Experian’s Decision Analytics credit information platform were exposed to the Internet without authentication until earlier this week.

The support site also apparently allowed anyone to file support tickets, potentially making it easy for clever attackers who’d studied the exposed support tickets to fabricate a request for access to Experian resources or accounts on the system.

In addition, experts I spoke with who examined the portal said the support site allowed anyone to upload arbitrary file attachments of virtually any file type. Those experts said such file upload capabilities are notoriously easy for attackers to use to inject malicious files into databases and other computing environments, and that having such capability out in the open without at least first requiring users to supply valid username and password credentials is asking for trouble.

KrebsOnSecurity sought comment from Experian to find out if it knew that its Decision Analytics support portal allowed anyone to view the tickets within. The company said in a statement that it had disabled the portal in response to what appeared to be unauthorized access to it and had notified law enforcement.

“We take any unauthorized access to our systems very seriously, and when we detected the unauthorized activities, we shut down the website and notified law enforcement,” the company said in a statement. “Our credit database and core infrastructure were not impacted – nor could they be accessed through this website.  This site was a legacy version of a service to enable clients and internal users to create and log tickets for issues they may have and we had already deployed its replacement solution.” Continue reading →


2
Oct 15

Experian Breach Affects 15 Million Consumers

Kicking off National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with a bang, credit bureau and consumer data broker Experian North America disclosed Thursday that a breach of its computer systems exposed approximately 15 million Social Security numbers and other data on people who applied for financing from wireless provider T-Mobile USA Inc.

experianExperian said the compromise of an internal server exposed names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers and/or drivers’ license numbers, as well as additional information used in T-Mobile’s own credit assessment. The Costa Mesa, Calif.-based data broker stressed that no payment card or banking details were stolen, and that the intruders never touched its consumer credit database.

Based on the wording of Experian’s public statement, many publications have reported that the breach lasted for two years from Sept. 1, 2013 to Sept. 16, 2015. But according to Experian spokesperson Susan Henson, the forensic investigation is ongoing, and it remains unclear at this point the exact date that the intruders broke into Experian’s server.

Henson told KrebsOnSecurity that Experian detected the breach on Sept. 15, 2015, and confirmed the theft of a single file containing the T-Mobile data on Sept. 22, 2015.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere blasted Experian in a statement posted to T-Mobile’s site. “Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian, but right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected,” Legere wrote.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Experian said it will be notifying affected consumers by snail mail, and that it will be offering affected consumers free credit monitoring through its “Protect MyID” service. Take them up on this offer if you want , but I would strongly encourage anyone affected by this breach to instead place a security freeze on their credit files at Experian and at the other big three credit bureaus, including Equifax, Trans Union and Innovis.

Experian’s offer to sign victims up for its credit monitoring service to address a breach of its own making is pretty rich. Moreover, credit monitoring services aren’t really built to prevent ID theft. The most you can hope for from a credit monitoring service is that they give you a heads up when ID theft does happen, and then help you through the often labyrinthine process of getting the credit bureaus and/or creditors to remove the fraudulent activity and to fix your credit score. Continue reading →


21
Nov 14

Convicted ID Thief, Tax Fraudster Now Fugitive

In April 2014, this blog featured a story about Lance Ealy, an Ohio man arrested last year for buying Social Security numbers and banking information from an underground identity theft service that relied in part on data obtained through a company owned by big-three credit bureau Experian. Earlier this week, Ealy was convicted of using the data to fraudulently claim tax refunds with the IRS in the names of more than 175 U.S. citizens, but not before he snipped his monitoring anklet and skipped town.

Lance Ealy, in self-portrait he uploaded to twitter before absconding.

Lance Ealy, in selfie he uploaded to Twitter before absconding.

On Nov. 18, a jury in Ohio convicted Ealy, 28, on all 46 charges, including aggravated identity theft, and wire and mail fraud. Government prosecutors presented evidence that Ealy had purchased Social Security numbers and financial data on hundreds of consumers, using an identity theft service called Superget.info (later renamed Findget.me). The jury found that Ealy used that information to fraudulently file at least 179 tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service, and to open up bank accounts in other victims’ names — accounts he set up to receive and withdraw tens of thousand of dollars in refund payments from the IRS.

The identity theft service that Ealy used was dismantled in 2013, after investigators with the U.S. Secret Service arrested its proprietor and began tracking and finding many of his customers. Investigators later discovered that the service’s owner had obtained much of the consumer data from data brokers by posing as a private investigator based in the United States.

In reality, the owner of Superget.info was a Vietnamese man paying for his accounts at data brokers using cash wire transfers from a bank in Singapore. Among the companies that Ngo signed up with was Court Ventures, a California company that was bought by credit bureau Experian nine months before the government shut down Superget.info.

Court records show that Ealy went to great lengths to delay his trial, and even reached out to this reporter hoping that I would write about his allegations that everyone from his lawyer to the judge in the case was somehow biased against him or unfit to participate in his trial. Early on, Ealy fired his attorney, and opted to represent himself. When the court appointed him a public defender, Ealy again choose to represent himself.

“Mr. Ealy’s motions were in a lot of respects common delay tactics that defendants use to try to avoid the inevitability of a trial,” said Alex Sistla, an assistant U.S. attorney in Ohio who helped prosecute the case.

Ealy also continued to steal peoples’ identities while he was on trial (although no longer buying from Superget.info), according to the government. His bail was revoked for several months, but in October the judge in the case ordered him released on a surety bond. Continue reading →


10
Jul 14

Interview With Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

nprlock On Monday, I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on Terry Gross‘s Fresh Air radio show on National Public Radio. I’m a huge fan of Gross’s show and was quite flattered and honored to have been invited.

The roughly 39-minute interview covered a range of topics, including my reporting on the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches, as well as an investigation into how an identity theft service conned its way into getting access to a subsidiary of big three credit bureau Experian.

Gross also asked about some of the responses that my reporting has engendered from various denizens of the cybercrime underground, hence the title of the segment, “The Hazards of Probing the Internet’s Dark Side.”

The archived podcast of the show is available here.


19
May 14

Experian Breach Tied to NY-NJ ID Theft Ring

Last year, a top official from big-three credit bureau Experian told Congress that the firm was not aware of any consumers that had been harmed by an incident in which a business unit of Experian sold consumer records directly to an online identity theft service for nearly 10 months. Today’s post presents evidence that among the ID theft service’s clients was an identity theft and credit card fraud ring of at least 32 people who were arrested last year for allegedly using the information to steal millions from more  than 1,000 victims across the country.

Ngo's ID theft service superget.info

Ngo’s ID theft service superget.info

On March 31, 2014, 26-year-old Idris Soyemi of Brooklyn, New York pleaded guilty in a New Hampshire court to one count of wire fraud. In Soyemi’s guilty plea hearing, the prosecutor laid out how Soyemi on several occasions bought Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other personal information from an online identity theft service run by guy named Hieu Minh Ngo.

Ngo is a Vietnamese national who for several years ran an online identity theft service called superget.info. Shortly after my 2011 initial story about his service, Ngo tauntingly renamed his site to findget.me. The Secret Service took him up on that challenge, and succeeded in luring him out of Vietnam into Guam, where he was arrested and brought to New Hampshire for trial. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to running the ID theft service, and the government has been working on rounding up his customers ever since.

According to Soyemi’s guilty plea transcript (PDF), U.S. Secret Service agents seized control over Ngo’s email account in February 2013 and used it to interact with his customers. Posing as Ngo, the undercover agent reached out to Soyemi and wrote, “I’m back. You doing tax refund or credit card?”, asking Soyemi whether he was buying personal data on consumers to set up new lines of credit in their names or to file fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS — a rapidly growing form of cybercrime. Soyemi responded, “I do credit cards but can you tell me about tax refund?” (if you missed last month’s story about an Ohio man who’s accused of using Ngo’s service to file at least 150 fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS, check that out here).

Interestingly, Soyemi was part of a huge network of nearly three dozen people who were rounded up last year and charged with taking out new credit cards in victims’ names and then using the cards to make millions of dollars in retail purchases that were then fenced on the black market. From an April 2013 story in the Jersey Journal:

“The leaders of the group, authorities say, purchased the identities of unsuspecting victims from online brokers, who got the information from computer hackers across the United States….”

“In a process known as ‘punching,’ electronic account information from the cards’ magnetic strips would be transferred onto counterfeit cards, which were provided to “strikers” who conducted the purchases at retailers all over the Eastern Seaboard, authorities say…”

….”The investigation has identified nearly 1,000 victims across the country and millions of dollars in phony transactions, authorities say.”

“Authorities say the suspects spent the proceeds on luxury cars, high-end jewelry and other lavish expenses. Some of the money was additionally sent to accounts in Nigeria, authorities say.”

Further tying this group to Ngo’s service is a four-count indictment (PDF) lodged against another man named in that identity theft ring roundup by the New Jersey prosecutor’s office: Oluwaseun Adekoya, 25, of Sewaren, NJ. Adekoya’s indictment makes numerous references to his alleged purchase of hundreds of consumer records from an online identity theft service that was taken over by U.S. Secret Service agents in February 2013 (recall that in Soyemi’s guilty plea hearing government prosecutors said that in that same month undercover Secret Service agents assumed control of the email account tied to Ngo’s identity theft service). Continue reading →


5
Apr 14

Fact-Checking Experian’s Talking Points

In the wake of long-overdue media attention to revelations that a business unit of credit bureau Experian sold consumer personal data directly to an online service that catered to identity thieves, Experian is rightfully trying to explain its side of the story by releasing a series of talking points. This blog post is an attempt to add more context and fact-checking to those talking points.

Experian has posted several articles on its Web properties that lament the existence of “inaccurate information about Experian circulating in news outlets and other Web sites.”

“It’s no surprise that cybercrime and data breaches are hot topics for media and bloggers these days,” wrote Gerry Tschopp, senior vice president of public affairs at Experian. “Unfortunately, because of all the attention paid to these topics, we’ve seen some inaccurate information about Experian circulating in news outlets and other Web sites. I want to take a moment to clarify the facts and events.”

I’ve read this clarification closely, and it seems that Experian’s latest talking points deserve some clarification and fact-checking of their own. Below are Experian’s assertions of the facts (in bold), followed by some supplemental information glossed over by said statements of fact.

-No Experian database was accessed. The data in question have at all relevant times been owned and maintained, not by Experian, but by a company called US Info Search.

As all of my stories on this incident have explicitly stated, the government has said the data was not obtained directly from Experian, but rather via Columbus, Ohio-based US Info Search. US Info Search had a contractual agreement with a California company named Court Ventures, whereby customers of Court Ventures had access to the US Info Search data as well as Court Ventures’ data, and vice versa. Experian came into the picture in March 2012, when it purchased Court Ventures (along with all of its customers — including the proprietor of the identity theft service).

For its part, US Info Search says Experian’s explanation of the events is based on false statements and misrepresentations, and that the proprietor of the ID theft service paid Experian for his access using large cash payments sent to Experian via wire from Singapore.

“Experian provided access to records via a gateway that used multiple data sources and the suspect never had access to our service,” US Info Search CEO Marc Martin said in a written statement. “We, like many others, provide data to Experian, who in turn sold data to customers they approved and monitored. Our agreement with Court Ventures and subsequently Experian was to provide information that was being used for identity verification and fraud prevention.

-Further, Experian’s only involvement was that it purchased the assets of a company, Court Ventures, that provided access to US Info Search’s data to Court Ventures’ customers. Under that contract, customers of Court Ventures, including the criminal in this case, could access US Info Search’s data. This was not an Experian database, and specifically, this was not a credit database.

Experian has a duty to conduct “due diligence” on companies it wishes to acquire, because it knows that in purchasing a company it will acquire all of the company’s assets — including whatever debts, liabilities or poor decisions the previous owners may have incurred that end up creating problems down the road. Experian wants to blame everyone else, but by its own admission, Experian didn’t conduct proper due diligence on Court Ventures before acquiring the company. Addressing a U.S. Senate committee last December, Experian’s senior vice president of government policy, Tony Hadley, allowed that “during the due diligence process, we didn’t have total access to all the information we needed in order to completely vet that, and by the time we learned of the malfeasance nine months had expired, and the Secret Service came to us and told us of the incident. We were a victim, and scammed by this person.”

Also, if it wasn’t clear by now, Experian’s PR mantra on this crisis has been that “no Experian database was accessed,” in this fraud. But this mantra draws attention away from the real victim: Consumers whose information was sold by Experian’s company directly to an identity theft service. A critical question to ask to this line of thinking is: Why does it matter whose database it is, if it contains personal info and Experian profited from its sale?  Continue reading →


29
Oct 13

Adobe Breach Impacted At Least 38 Million Users

The recent data breach at Adobe that exposed user account information and prompted a flurry of password reset emails impacted at least 38 million users, the company now says. It also appears that the already massive source code leak at Adobe is broadening to include the company’s Photoshop family of graphical design products.

A posting on anonnews.org that was later deleted.

A posting on anonnews.org that was later deleted.

In a breach first announced on this blog Oct. 3, 2013, Adobe said hackers had stolen nearly 3 million encrypted customer credit card records, as well as login data for an undetermined number of Adobe user accounts.

At the time, a massive trove of stolen Adobe account data viewed by KrebsOnSecurity indicated that — in addition to the credit card records — tens of millions of user accounts across various Adobe online properties may have been compromised in the break-in. It was difficult to fully examine many of the files on the hackers’ server that housed the stolen source because many of the directories were password protected, and Adobe was reluctant to speculate on the number of users potentially impacted.

But just this past weekend, AnonNews.org posted a huge file called “users.tar.gz” that appears to include more than 150 million username and hashed password pairs taken from Adobe. The 3.8 GB file looks to be the same one Hold Security CISO Alex Holden and I found on the server with the other data stolen from Adobe.

Adobe spokesperson Heather Edell said the company has just completed a campaign to contact active users whose user IDs with valid, encrypted password information was stolen, urging those users to reset their passwords. She said Adobe has no indication that there has been any unauthorized activity on any Adobe ID involved in the incident.

“So far, our investigation has confirmed that the attackers obtained access to Adobe IDs and (what were at the time valid), encrypted passwords for approximately 38 million active users,” Edell said [emphasis added]. “We have completed email notification of these users. We also have reset the passwords for all Adobe IDs with valid, encrypted passwords that we believe were involved in the incident—regardless of whether those users are active or not.”

Edell said Adobe believes that the attackers also obtained access to many invalid Adobe IDs, inactive Adobe IDs, Adobe IDs with invalid encrypted passwords, and test account data. “We are still in the process of investigating the number of inactive, invalid and test accounts involved in the incident,” she wrote in an email. “Our notification to inactive users is ongoing.”

Part of the Adobe breach involved the theft of source code for Adobe Acrobat and Reader, as well as its ColdFusion Web application platform. Among the cache was a 2.56 GB-sized file called ph1.tar.gz, but KrebsOnSecurity and Hold Security were unable to crack the password on the archive. Over this past weekend, AnonNews.org posted a file by the same name and size that was not password protected, and appeared to be source code for Adobe Photoshop.

Asked about the AnonNews posting’s similarities to the leaked source code troves discovered by this publication in late September, Adobe’s Edell said indeed that it appears the intruders got at least some of the Photoshop source code. In both cases, Adobe said it contacted the sites hosting the data linked to from the AnonNews postings and had the information taken down.

“Our investigation to date indicates that a portion of Photoshop source code was accessed by the attackers as part of the incident Adobe publicly disclosed on Oct. 3,” Edell wrote.

Continue reading →